2022-04-17

The Deer in Acts of the Apostles and the Aeneid

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by Neil Godfrey

So I have not been the only one to pick up on the meaning of the name of a woman Peter raised from the dead and associate it with Virgil’s Aeneid. Her name is given as Dorcas, meaning a “deer”, and her healing follows immediately after Peter’s healing of Aeneas. Michael Kochenash has written a chapter on the same intertextual link in Roman Self-Representation and the Lukan Kingdom of God.

We have a different emphasis, though.

In Acts, Peter raises from the dead a well-loved disciple named Tabitha, “Greek name Dorcas”, who had won renown for her caring work of making woven clothes. This scene takes place on the cusp of expanding the Christian mission from the Jews to the gentiles. Since that miracle took place just after the healing of Aeneas, the namesake of the famed mythical founder of the Romans, I was reminded of the dramatic scene in Virgil’s Aeneid where a slain deer is the cause of war between Aeneas’s company and the Latins. It was that war that marked the beginning of a place for the ancestors of Rome in Italy. Like Dorcas, the deer was well-loved by all around her and associated with woven decoration.

Acts 9:

32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord.

Dido with Aeneas on the hunt for deer; Dido will become the victim deer (image from myartprints.co.uk)

Virgil’s epic poem about the odyssey of Aeneas from Troy to Italy where he founded the settlement that would become Rome sustains the image of deer throughout books 1, 4, 7, 10 and 12. A crisis in the epic occurs when Aeneas is in danger of being diverted from his divine mission by falling in love with Dido, the queen of Carthage. After Aeneas finally breaks free and leaves for Italy, the distraught Dido kills herself with the sword Aeneas had gifted her. Kochenash discusses at some length the deer similes in these episodes and their resonances in the Acts passage that I had completely overlooked. The emotionally wounded Dido is compared to a wounded deer. Her death is caused by Aeneas in two senses: by his leaving her and by her taking the sword he had left her. The metaphor Virgil uses is that of arrows of the hunter slaying the deer, an ironic twist on the arrows shot by Cupid.

There are other deer comparisons in the Aeneid that Kochenash addresses in the same context. One of these is the climactic end of the epic where Aeneas, compared with a savage hunting dog, slays the king Turnus who is likened to a helpless deer.

What does all of this have to do with Acts and Peter’s healing of Dorcas, apart from the fact that Dorcas means “deer”?

First of all, the author of Acts drew special attention to the name Dorcas by presenting it as a translation of the Aramaic Tabitha. Secondly, and I think most significant, is that the healing happens at Joppa, the place known from the story of Jonah who took God’s message to the gentiles of his day. Jonah tried to flee from his task by taking a ship from Joppa but God redirected him back to Assyria. And third, the reader is primed to “think Roman” by the immediately preceding healing of Aeneas.

Or in Kochenash’s words,

The three Petrine narratives within Acts 9:32–11:18 represent a transition in the mission of the kingdom of God: the inclusion of those beyond the margins of Jewish religion and society (i.e., Gentiles). Tabitha lives in the city of Joppa, a detail emphasized by Luke to foreshadow the Gentile mission that begins in the next narrative. The tragedy of Dido reflects a Roman attitude that human life is expendable when it impedes the progress of Rome’s empire. When Luke’s Peter is thus read as contrasting with Virgil’s Aeneas in a pivotal narrative concerned with the expansion of the kingdom of God, the character of God’s kingdom becomes evident by contrast to that of Rome.

This interpretation coheres with a Greco-Roman literary ethos, wherein Greek writers relished the opportunity to encrypt arcane messages within their narratives. While a general readership would be able to read the narrative with sufficient comprehension, those with the appropriate cultural competence would enjoy noticing the subtle references that augment such a reading. According to Dennis R. MacDonald, “In most cases, imitations disguise a rewarding sensus plenior—a fuller meaning below the surface, somewhat like allegory—that is intended for the more sophisticated. Discovering a clever, obscure twist on a popular tale often produces a smile, as though in the cryptic allusion the author has winked.” Luke’s use of the names Tabitha and Dorcas—in proximity to the name Aeneas—can, I suggest, be read as a wink to his readers. (p. 116 – author link is to the cited work in archive.org)

Here is Kochenash’s summary of his longer discussion:

The Romans could not completely obscure the fact that its touted Pax came at the expense of (human) collateral damage. Even Rome’s foundation epic, Virgil’s Aeneid—written under the patronage of Augustus himself—includes two such fatalities: Dido and Turnus. According to Mary Thornton, by comparing these two to deer, “Vergil is guaranteeing that although we see the faults and the responsibilities of Dido and Turnus for their misfortunes, we will not fail to give them our sympathy just as we would do for any wounded deer.” Luke’s narrative constructs a matrix consisting of a man named Aeneas, a dead woman whose name means “deer,” and the theme of the expansion of the kingdom of God, all of which can be read as an allusion to the tragedy of Aeneas and Dido. This allusion prompts readers to understand the kingdom of God through the framework of Roman self-representation. By raising Tabitha from the dead, Peter enacts the expansion of the kingdom of God, performing an action that has the opposite effect of Roman expansion. Whereas the expansion of the Roman Empire brings death, that of the kingdom of God brings life. (p. 118 – author link is to the cited work in Jstor)

Even if many of the early readers of Acts had not read Virgil’s Aeneid the stories of Aeneas and Dido were well known throughout the empire as artworks and papyri remains testify.

There is one detail, however, that I do find myself wondering if Kochenash has overlooked. Why does Acts point out all of the garments that Dorcas had made? Continue reading “The Deer in Acts of the Apostles and the Aeneid”


2022-04-15

Why was the Book of Revelation Written?

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by Neil Godfrey

Therefore write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after these things. – Rev 1:19

My intent in this post is to give an overview of the key points argued by Thomas Witulski [TW] in Part 2 of The Revelation of John and Emperor Hadrian [translated from the German: Die Johannesoffenbarung und Kaiser Hadrian]. I include links to works that he critiques so you can follow up the other side in their own words.

Most interpreters of the above verse (Rev 1:19) consider it to be the key to understanding what Revelation is all about. But after that, opinions are divided. Does it mean that the first part of the book that introduces letters to seven churches is describing “the things that are” leaving the remaining chapters to cover future events?

In short, though TW takes four pages to say it, the answer is ‘no’. The messages to the seven churches contain prophecies of the future and the main body of the book includes flashbacks to events past. Furthermore, both parts of the book dwell heavily upon what is happening now.

So why did the author write it? TW engages with four main views.

Continue reading “Why was the Book of Revelation Written?”


2022-04-10

The Crucifixion of Jesus as Implicit History of the Jewish War

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by Neil Godfrey

The letters of Paul that are understood to have been written some twenty to ten years before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE speak about the crucifixion of Jesus as a simple fact. There is never any elaboration of when or where it happened (unless one treats 1 Thess 2:13-16 as genuine). The message of death and resurrection of the son of God by itself is sufficient to lead to conversion. For Mark, though (and for the sake of convenience and convention I’ll call the author of the second gospel Mark), this was not enough. A detailed story involving betrayal, abandonment, a trial, physical abuse and crucifixion with attendant miracles had to be told. I side with those critical scholars who conclude that all of those details are fabrications since the narrative was created out of various passages in the “Old Testament” and none of Jesus’ followers could have witnessed anything that happened once he was in the hands of the Jewish priests and Roman guards. But even if we concede for the sake of argument that the Passion account of Jesus did hold some “historical core” at its base, there can be no denying that the way Mark has shaped the story with its many allusions to OT scriptures is his own creative work.

Why? Why did he write that narrative and why did he write it the way he did?

Some years back I wrote a series about Son of Yahweh: The Gospels as Novels, by Clarke Owens. Clarke Owens was analysing the Gospel of Mark from the perspective of a literary critic and argued that it was necessary to see the gospel as a product of its time, and that time was in the wake of the Jewish War that condemned untold numbers of Jewish victims to crucifixion around the city of Jerusalem.

In the past few months I have caught up with another work, or two of them, by a German New Testament scholar who makes much the same argument from his perspective:

  • Bedenbender, Andreas. Frohe Botschaft am Abgrund: Das Markusevangelium und der Jüdische Krieg [= Good News at/from the Abyss: The Gospel of Mark and the Jewish War]. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2013.
  • Bedenbender, Andreas. Der Gescheiterte Messias [= The Failed Messiah]. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2019.

Andreas Bedenbender’s view is that the author of the earliest gospel was writing from a place of trauma and was struggling to come to terms with the fate of his people that he had just witnessed. Had not the gospel being preached about Jesus promised the soon-to-arrive Kingdom of God? Now this!? By a “failed messiah” he means a messiah who failed in the same sense that the OT prophets had failed when they preached their warnings about Assyrian and Babylonian captivity if the people of the northern and southern kingdoms did not mend their ways. This position of trauma, Bedenbender believes, explains the dark and confronting features and outright contradictions in the gospel: a messiah who now does, now does not, seem to care for his people, such as when he heals them at one moment but deserts them when they are trying to find him; who terrifies rather than comforts others by wielding his power over demons and the elements; who like a ghost is seen walking on water past his disciples instead of rushing to help them in their distress; who condemns his disciples for an unnatural blindness that they cannot help; who orders silence when a crowd has just heard and witnessed all; and whose story closes with the only witnesses to news of his resurrection fleeing dumb with fear (the earliest manuscripts of the gospel conclude at Mark 16:8).

For Bedenbender the crucifixion of Jesus is a kind of allegory of the fate of Jerusalem. The messiah is made to share in the fate of the Jewish people. From the Jewish historian Josephus we learn that those who did not die from starvation or factional violence or the slaughter of the advancing Roman soldiers or who were not enslaved were crucified:

Scourged and subjected before death to every torture, they were finally crucified in view of the wall. . . . The soldiers themselves through rage and bitterness nailed up their victims in various attitudes as a grim joke, till owing to the vast numbers there was no room for the crosses, and no crosses for the bodies. (Josephus, Jewish War, Book 6: 449-451 – G.A. Williamson translation)

We saw a similar argument in the series on Nanine Charbonnel’s Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier. The Gospels created the figure of Jesus in part as a personification of the people of Israel.

Bedenbender goes beyond the events of the crucifixion, though. Right from the beginning of the gospel, we read of “a wilderness place” that is the frequent abode of Jesus. It is easy enough to relate the “wilderness” image to other wilderness scenes in the OT, most especially the “wilderness” through which Moses led the Israelites for 40 years. But Mark repeatedly refers to a “wilderness place” — έρημος τόπος = erēmos topos — and that brings to the minds of readers of the Greek translation (the Septuagint) of Jeremiah, Daniel and the Psalms the desolate ruin of God’s “place”, Zion and where the Temple had once stood. This is one of the ways in which the Jewish War is woven into the Gospel of Mark from its opening chapter.

Place names and names of persons are related to scenes and leaders that became well-known in the Jewish War of 66 to 70/73 CE. In the OT women are very often personifications of nations and cities and Bedenbender identifies the same figurative tradition in the names of Salome, Jairus’ daughter, Mary Magdalene (Magdala is another name for Tarichea, the scene of one of the bloodiest slaughters of Jews described by Josephus) and the others. Simon, of course, is probably the most prominent name in the gospel and here Bedenbender suggests that we see in this figure an encapsulation of the Jewish rebel movement from its beginning with Simon Maccabee through to Simon bar Giora. Simon Maccabee’s son Alexander became famous for his enforced Judaizations and mass crucifixions of his Jewish enemies, and the names of Tiberius Alexander and Rufus are readily associated with the Roman military confronting Jerusalem. (I can’t help wondering — I know this must seem outlandish to many who have more conservative views of Simon of Cyrene, father of Alexander and Rufus, who carried Jesus’ cross — that the Gospel of Mark could have been written as late as the second century in the wake of horrendous Jewish rebellions in Cyrene and when yet another Simon, with the support of a rabbi “James”, defied Rome. The result of that rebellion in the days of Hadrian really was the ultimate end to Jerusalem and any hopes for a rebuilt temple. Would not that timeline place the author far closer to catastrophic events with a greater likelihood of writing in a pall of trauma than if he had been writing a few years after the events of 70?)

Andreas Bedenbender begins with a study of the meaning of allegory and related literary devices and examines why we should think of the entire narrative, and not merely isolated scenes, as containing a reference to the fate of Judea and what that meant for those who believed in Jesus as their messiah. He analyses the narrative to demonstrate, I think successfully, that not only the parable sayings but the miracles themselves are symbolic and take on a special depth of meaning when read in the context of the war. I believe we can go beyond the miracles and understand other narrative features (beginning with the baptism and call of the first disciples) as rich in “allegorical” references. Bedenbender has an interesting interpretation of Jesus’ debating confrontations with the Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees and scribes after his entry into Jerusalem that focuses on Jesus’ attempt to disabuse them (and readers) of any notion of a messiah who was destined to wage a physical war against earthly opponents.

I look forward to posting more details about these works. In the meantime, I cannot ignore my resolution to address Witulski’s case for a Hadrian-era date for the Book of Revelation; and someone else has recently reminded me that I have yet to finish a series I was doing back in 2018 on the Parables of Enoch and the Jewish concept of a heavenly messiah.

And as Tim pointed out in his latest post, more needs to be said about “the insidious nature of agnotology” that poses a potential threat to our futures. We have to remain optimistic if we are to take the necessary actions and I think there are many reasons to be optimistic: look at what these ninthgraders can do! — this and this!

 


2022-04-07

Trying to make sense of Simon Magus

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by Neil Godfrey

I have always found the account of Simon Magus in the Acts of the Apostles empty of any real significance. It contains nothing to advance the plot. The “magician” wants to buy a bottle of holy spirit from Peter so he can perform miracles, he says, but that leaves me cold: it lacks any sense of psychological realism even by ancient novelistic standards; and besides, I was a baptized member of a church who also had the holy spirit and it didn’t let me do miracles, so what was going on here?

To refresh your memories, here’s the scene: Acts 8:9-25 (NIV)

9 Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, 10 and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is rightly called the Great Power of God.” 11 They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his sorcery. 12 But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 13 Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw.

14 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. 15 When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, 16 because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money 19 and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

20 Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! 21 You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God. 22 Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. 23 For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.”

24 Then Simon answered, “Pray to the Lord for me so that nothing you have said may happen to me.”

I have read Hermann Detering’s and Robert Price’s proposals that second century “proto-orthodox” authors created Simon Magus as a fictional embodiment of the unorthodox side of the “real Paul” at a time when Paul was at the centre of theological disputes. My response to that argument has been to regard such a hypothesis as a curious possibility but nothing more. More to the point for me has been that, quite apart from any purported association with Paul, it has been all too easy to think of Simon Magus as a lampoon-like fiction: he is oafish enough to offer money for spiritual goods, has beside him a woman who is both an ex-prostitute and an “Ideal Creative Thought” of his mind, and in later stories he flies through the air until Peter causes him to fall ignominiously to earth.

How could anyone take such a figure seriously? Certainly not as a historical reality!

Jan Bremmer

But something pulled me up when I was reading Jan N. Bremmer‘s 2020 article “Simon Magus: The Invention and Reception of a Magician in a Christian Context“. His initial point is to “elucidate the gradual emergence of the main features of Simon Magus in the course of late antiquity” and to this end he begins,

The invention of the figure of Simon Magus started in the canonical Acts of the Apostles. In Chapter 8 of the Acts . . . [followed by a quotation of Acts 8:9-13] (p. 248)

Okay…. but there’s a wrinkle in there somewhere. On the next page Bremmer writes,

Our next sighting of Simon is in the First Apology of Justin (1.26.2-3, ed. Munier), dated to the early 150s:

Here was a certain Simon, a Samaritan, and a native of the village called Githon, who in the reign of Claudius Caesar, and in your royal city of Rome, did mighty acts of magic (δυνάμεις ποιήσας μαγικής ) with the aid of the demons operating in him. He was considered a god, and as a god was honoured by you with a statue, which was erected on the river Tiber, between the two bridges, with this Latin inscription: Simoni Deo Sancto (Σίμωνι δεῳ σάγκτῳ). And almost all the Samaritans, and even a few who belonged to other peoples, confess him as the first god and worship him; and a certain Helena, who accompanied him at that time, and had formerly been standing on the roof (i.e., had been a prostitute), they say is the first idea generated by him.

[note: “By curious chance, a statue was pulled from the Tiber in 1574 with the inscription SEMONI SANCO DEO FIDIO SACRUM. It is obvious, as has often been recognised, that Justin’s reference to a statue of Simon is based on a misinterpretation of a statue of Semo, an old Sabine god.”]

No, something is amiss there. Justin clearly had no knowledge of our canonical Acts of the Apostles. He knows nothing of Paul. In his mind it is the twelve apostles (the same twelve whom Jesus appeared to after his resurrection — leaving no room for a lost and replaced Judas) who took the message to all the gentiles. And his account of Simon Magus betrays no awareness of anything in Acts 8.

Jan Bremmer also acknowledges the possibility, even plausibility, of a date later than the early second century:

I realise that the date of the canonical Acts of the Apostles is debated and might even be later than Marcion but no evidence has yet been produced to date it after Irenaeus; cf. Gregory 2003.  (Bremmer, p. 247)

Gregory in Reception of Luke and Acts in the Period Before Irenaeus concludes nothing more definite than that our earliest evidence for knowledge of Acts comes with Irenaeus in the late second century (p. 349)

In years past I posted often on Acts of the Apostles and the one conclusion that has endured in my mind is that Acts could not have been written before the middle of the second century. The arguments of those such as Joseph Tyson and the Acts Seminar have posited a date in the early second century, 120s-130s,  but that date is the earliest possible date that the data allows. There is no reason it could not be dated a few decades later. But even if we accept the 120s-130s, it was surely written in isolation from Justin who knew nothing of it.

Now when we compare the two accounts of this Simon, the one in Acts and the one by Justin, it is the latter account, Justin’s, that reads with more “realism” than the sparse and strange narrative in Acts. The Acts narrative, as I said, adds nothing to the plot. Today’s readers have to assume that its author was addressing an audience who had some knowledge of this Simon figure that has long been lost to us. The Acts portrayal tells those readers that Simon was greedy to maintain power and influence in the church and crass enough to think money could buy his way into the ranks of the apostles.

Why did the author of Acts tell this story? One would expect that the episode would be followed up at some point with Simon’s fate or other kinds of influence somewhere — at least something to indicate to readers why he was introduced in the first place.

But there is another strange detail: the conclusion, Continue reading “Trying to make sense of Simon Magus”


2022-03-07

Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 3)

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by Tim Widowfield

In a comment to the previous post, Russell Gmirkin took issue with my explanation of Kuhn’s definition of a paradigm and my conclusion that fields of study outside of natural sciences don’t have Kuhnian paradigms, and hence no “paradigm shifts.”

He quoted from his forthcoming book, as follows:

One may define an academic paradigm as an implicit or explicit theoretical and factual framework that is agreed upon by consensus by a body of professionals within a discipline. (Gmirkin 2022)

As I’ve said before, if you want to propose your own definition of a paradigm, I have no quarrel with it. However, having done so, you will have left the Kuhnian universe of ideas. And once again, I protest not because Kuhn was right in all things, but simply because he had a particular structure in mind, and to appropriate his conclusions based on terminology antithetical to that structure is wrong.

Unright

I apparently must now apologize for calling someone or something wrong, since Mr. Dabrowski has informed me that I am displaying “animus.” Let us say instead that it is unright. Perhaps even double-plus unright.

Gmirkin continues:

Paradigms are typically perpetuated within academic institutions of learning in preparation for professional life within that field. As an axiomatic intellectual framework enforced by revered teachers and respected peers, paradigms tend to be conservatively preserved and are difficult to change except in the face of both deconstruction by new facts that run counter to the accepted paradigm and the construction of a competing paradigm with greater explanatory power (Kuhn 1996) (Gmirkin 2022)

I understand his point. As we discussed in previous posts, anomalies arise when new data arrives that calls the entire prevailing framework into question. The resulting crisis can engender a great deal of backlash. For example, the discovery of X-rays sent shock waves through the scientific community. One might wonder why this should be so, since the prevailing paradigm didn’t exclude the possibility of their existence. Continue reading “Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 3)”


2022-02-28

Hadrian as Nero Redivivus

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by Neil Godfrey

Key points in this post:

  • Both Nero and Hadrian waged war with the Jews.
  • Both Nero and Hadrian had a special devotion to enriching and reviving the culture of the Greek world
  • Nero pursued the cultic-religious worship of his own person, Hadrian that of Antinous (and more to be covered in upcoming posts)
  • The travel coins minted by Hadrian mirror the Corinthian local coinage reflecting Nero’s visit there.
  • The rule of Hadrian witnessed a flourishing of Jewish apocalyptic writings, including the identification of Hadrian with Nero redivivus.
Hadrian brought the Temple of Olympian Zeus to completion after it had languished for 600 years. He had four more-than-life-size statues of himself at its entrance and was worshipped along with Zeus. Hadrian also displayed here a giant serpent from India.

–o–

The Nero redivivus myth is a standard interpretative feature in most commentaries on Revelation. Virtually every major commentary on Revelation mentions the myth . . .  Kreitzer (1988)

But there is little agreement on exactly how Revelation fits with the history of the Roman empire. Kreitzer lists four scenarios to demonstrate those difficulties:

Rev 11:8 The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.

9 “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. 10 They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. 11 The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

Scenario one:

  • The five fallen emperors are Nero, Galba, Otho, Vitellius, Vespasian
  • The “one who is” (at time of writing), Titus
  • Domitian is the one “to appear” (foreseen by the author) as Nero redivivus.

Scenario two (omitting those who reigned for very short times):

  • The five fallen emperors are Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus.
  • The “one who is”, Domitian
  • The seventh and eighth are yet to come

Scenario three:

  • The five fallen emperors are the Julio-Claudians (Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero)
  • The “one who is” is then Galba
  • The one to come and to reign but a short time is then Otho — to be followed by Nero’s return

Scenario four is proposed by the same person who actually proposed scenario three above:

(The author) was writing in the early second century, a refugee, from a later wave of persecutions, and using the events of 64 to 69 in Rome as a cloak for his views of his own times. … To the author of Revelation the cheap and nasty legend of the risen Nero would seem the perfect legend for the anti-Christ, ever opposed to the truly and gloriously Risen Lord of his own faith. (John Bishop, Nero: The Man and Legend, p. 174)

The Nero myth was itself a variable quantity. It is as Kreitzer observes

The fact that ancient Jewish and Christian authors were able to find new and creative means of applying the Nero redivivus mythology to their own situations is particularly interesting. (1988, 95)

Indeed. And as we shall see, the emperor Hadrian who crushed the second Jewish rebellion led by Bar Kochba was also identified as the “Nero returned”.

Before we take on the details, let’s get some context.

Origin and Development of the Nero Redivivus Myth

We might say that there are three conditions necessary for a belief in someone’s return:

1.) A widespread popular affection for the figure by people who regarded the deceased as their benefactor or defender

2.) A general feeling that the figure concerned died leaving his work incomplete

3.) Mysterious or suspicious circumstances surrounding the figure’s death. 

(And we might thank M. P. Charlesworth for helping us out with that list.)

All three conditions apply to Nero. But as time went on and Nero didn’t return the hopes took a new twist: Nero was going to come back from the dead and return! As history and reality faded, myth took their place.

Non-Jews had hoped for Nero’s return. Jews, on the other hand, not so much. The idea of his return was good fodder for end-time prophecies such as those in the Sibylline Oracles, however. The Jewish oracles accordingly turned Nero into an end-time enemy of God.

How are these oracles dated? They refer to the destruction of the Jewish temple (70CE); they also refer to Hadrian in favourable terms so we presume that they were written before his war against Judea.

One set of these oracles (book 5) has been dated between 70 and 132 CE.

The oracles identify Nero by the following descriptions:

  • He initiated the war that led to the destruction of Jerusalem
  • He murdered his mother Agrippina
  • He claimed to be God
  • He loved the Greeks and those in the “east” (including Parthia) and they all loved him.
  • He cut through the isthmus of Corinth to create a canal joining two seas

Sibylline oracles identified Nero by means of known historical facts about him. And he was depicted there as an evil ruler. So where does Hadrian enter the story?

Hadrian as Nero redivivus

Curiously, Hadrian, though presented in a favourable light, is surrounded by descriptions of the unpleasant Nero. Not only is Hadrian nested within portrayals of Nero, but he also shares some of Nero’s historical identifiers. Given that the author here believes Hadrian is on the side of good and Nero on that of evil, we cannot imagine that Hadrian was understood to be Nero redivivus.

But the oracle was fearful. What of the future?

After all, Nero had brought savage punishment upon the Jews; so had the Flavians (Vespasian and Titus) who succeeded him. The oracle laments the existence of all these rulers. Then came the aged Nerva followed by Trajan. The oracle does not totally condemn those rulers: they had not caused trouble. And Hadrian, at least for now, seemed benign enough, but the past record of emperors still cast its shadow of traumatic memories. So the oracle wrote of Hadrian (5:46-50),

After him another will reign,
a silver-headed man. He will have the name of a sea.
He will also be a most excellent man and he will consider everything.
And in your time, most excellent, outstanding, dark-haired one,
and in the days of your descendants, all these days will come to pass.

Hadrian might be a fine man, but when he dies the end-of-time calamity will come — that was the message.

Still, why was Hadrian associated with Nero at all in these oracles?

Larry Kreitzer has an explanation:

It seems clear that Hadrian consciously adopted many of Nero’s benevolent policies toward the Eastern half of the Empire, deliberately modelling himself on his predecessor in this regard.

One of the important secondary sources of evidence for Hadrian’s preoccupation with the Emperor Nero is the numismatic evidence of the Imperial Roman mints. The fact that Hadrian borrowed some of Nero’s coin types for his official imperial mint issues, and used them as a means of popular propaganda, is indisputable. (1989, 69)

I’ll return to the numismatic evidence soon. For now, though, let’s look into K’s first point about Hadrian consciously adopting Nero’s policies: Continue reading “Hadrian as Nero Redivivus”


2022-02-27

When was the Book of Revelation Written?

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by Neil Godfrey

How do we go about finding a date for when the Book of Revelation was composed?

Many have dated the work to just prior to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, others date it to the time of Domitian in the 90s: I set out the main reasons for each of those dates in recent posts (see links in side box). I think there are some strong arguments for dating the work to the 130s but before I go there let’s address the various factors that have been brought into play to date the work.

(By the way, some have suggested that Revelation grew piece by piece as a result of different authors over a period of time adding new sections. For my purposes here I am siding with those who have disagreed and see enough linguistic evidence to think of a single author even though that author drew upon a number of sources.)

The legend of Nero redux or Nero redivivus

Revelation speaks of a return of some sort of monstrous ruler after he had once been thought dead or simply out of the picture for some reason. We think of the many hopeful people in the eastern part of the Roman empire who long believed that their beloved Nero, after news of his suicide, was still alive and would return.

The links here take interested readers directly to the sources that testify to beliefs that Nero would return.

The Nero myth of return was still going strong in the eastern part of the empire into the second century. The historian Suetonius tells us that twenty years after Nero’s death there were many who enthusiastically believed the claims of one claiming to be Nero. Dio Chrysostom, writing between 90 and 110 CE, noted that most people in his region believed Nero was still alive. The satirist Lucian was able to remind readers of his own day, in the 140s CE, that those from their grandparents’ times had believed Nero would return. The Sibylline Oracles contain prophecies of Nero’s return: the relevant passages in book IV describe the eruption of Mount Vesuvius so are understood to have been written between 80 and 90 CE; those of book V as late as 130 CE since they refer to the Jewish uprisings throughout the Diaspora between 115-117 CE. (See also a discussion on the Reading Acts blog for the dating of these oracles.)

Emperor Worship in Asia Minor

The setting of Revelation is the Roman province of Asia (note the opening address to the seven churches). If Revelation is warning the faithful not to succumb to pressure to “worship the beast” (think of sacrifices to the Roman emperor) then it would be good to know what was happening, and when it was happening, with respect to emperor worship in that region. One scholar, Klaus Berger, has claimed that in the years leading up to 70 there was an “intensive blossoming of cultic emperor worship in Asia Minor”. On the other hand, Steven Friesen writes “The period of Nero seems to have been rather quiet with regard to imperial worship.” The evidence cited indicates that a revival of this cult had to await the consecration of a dedicated shrine in Ephesus in 89/90 CE.

666 – the number of the beast

Certainly, the number 666 is known to match the emperor Nero. However, Nero is not the only candidate whose name adds up to 666. Irenaeus himself wrote of different possible interpretations. (We will see in future posts that Revelation 13:18 can be understood to direct readers to two different persons and that one should be interpreted in the light of the other, that the man Nero returned as the beast in another emperor.)

The seven kings of Revelation 17

It appears that everyone has a method to identify these seven kings. That there are so many different interpretations (some starting with Julius Caesar, some with Augustus, some with Claudius; some omitting the three emperors of the year of the civil war, others including all or only one of them, and so forth) pretty well eliminates the possibility of using them as a guide to dating the work.

The destruction of Jerusalem

In Revelation 11 we see the two witnesses active in Jerusalem and the author is told to measure the temple there. Unfortunately, that scenario has not been enough to persuade everyone that it was written before 70 CE. As one commentator on the book wrote, “The 11th chapter [of the Apc] belongs to the darkest pieces of the Rev”.

In touch with early theology (e.g. Paul’s teachings)

Some have noted how close Revelation appears to be in relation to Pauline theology and the older (Q) tradition behind the gospels. It does not follow, though, that the work should be dated as early as those sources; the most we can say is that the author knew of Paul’s writings and the gospels.

The earthquake of Laodicea in 61 CE.

Revelation describes the church at Laodicea as being rich and comfortable. Since Laodicea was levelled in 61 by an earthquake could it have been rebuilt as early as 68/69? Some think so.

Church hierarchies

There is no obvious appearance of hierarchical structures in church governance in Revelation. That could suggest an early date. It could also suggest that hierarchies were taken for granted as they were at a later time.

Time of war and crisis

The author anticipates the fall of Roman power so the “civil wars” of 68/9 seem to fit such a time. However, keep in mind the setting of the Roman province of Asia: those battles had no effect in that region and would hardly have generated a sense of crisis there. The same applies to references to fears of a Parthian invasion. Those fears were extant throughout the period from 45/50 to 155/160 CE so cannot be used as a clear indicator for dating.

Persecutions – Nero and Domitian

Revelation does appear to speak of a time of organized state persecution of Christians. If we accept the accounts of the Neronian persecutions of Christians as historically credible we are still left with the fact that that was a one-off event. It was past history by the time Revelation was written. As for the persecutions of Christians in the time of Domitian, scholars have been obliged to conclude that the evidence there is very thin. There are some late reports of individual cases but nothing to suggest an organized program to suppress Christianity. Besides, we need to be careful about what Revelation actually depicts as historical on the one hand and what it anticipates in the future on the other.

Twelve apostles and Babylon

Revelation presents the twelve apostles as the foundation of the new Jerusalem and uses Babylon as a cipher for Rome.

Critics of a date prior to the destruction of the temple in the year 70 claim that the notion of “twelve apostles” being the foundation of the church is unlikely to have been extant so soon. Similarly, critics have said that Babylon would only have been used as code for Rome after it had destroyed Jerusalem.

A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine!

Thus says the voice at the appearance of the black horse.

Did Domitian issue an edict that sought to regulate the disproportion between wine and grain cultivation in the empire? Some think there is evidence that he did, but it is far from certain that any such edict was issued. If it had been then it appears to have been only a temporary measure. There is precious little evidence that such an event happened or that it had any appreciable impact in the province of Asia if it did.

Testimony of Irenaeus

Irenaeus is thought to tell us that John wrote Revelation in the time of Domitian. Given that Irenaeus wrote around 180 CE, that testimony can only have historical weight if it can be shown that behind the claim there is an oral or written tradition that dates back close to the time of the writing of Revelation.

The arguments set out on the one hand for the nature of sources used by Irenaeus are lengthy; so are the arguments that examine the grammatical structures used by Irenaeus, the differences between the Greek and Latin versions of the key passages, and discussions on what conclusions we can draw from all of that detail. Bypassing all of that material here, I will only note that it appears certain that Irenaeus had a habit of citing his sources wherever possible to add weight to his work, and that when he did not do so, we have reason to believe that his statements were conclusions he drew from his own reasoning and assumptions.

…o…

Next up, we’ll look at some preliminary reasons for thinking Revelation was a response to Hadrian in the 130s.


Witulski, Thomas. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007. http://www.librarything.com/work/5467644/book/208189148.



2022-02-25

Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 2)

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by Tim Widowfield

The previous post generated some interesting discussion. Eventually, I would like to take the time to address the comments in a deliberate, serious manner; however, at the moment I want to take us back around to some fundamental questions.

  1. What did Thomas Kuhn mean by paradigm?
  2. Did Kuhn think his paradigmatic structure applied to the social sciences, arts, and humanities?
  3. Can we legitimately apply the concept of Kuhnian paradigm shifts to theology and biblical studies?

A Definition Might Help

Margaret Masterman-Braithwaite

As you probably already know, Kuhn’s magnum opus, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, spawned a great deal of controversy. Undeniably, he unleashed a generation of self-absorbed loud-talkers at parties who used the word incessantly. His detractors almost immediately jumped upon the fact that Kuhn used the word “paradigm” in several different senses of the word. How do we know what he meant by the term paradigm shift if we can’t be certain, from one page to the next, what exactly he meant by paradigm?

In the preface to more recent editions of Structure, Ian Hacking cites “an often-cited but seldom-read essay” by Margaret Masterman — who may be the first person to have counted the 21 ways Kuhn used the word. Having recently read the paper, “The Nature of a Paradigm,” I think Masterman’s criticism came out of sincere respect and the desire to clarify Kuhn’s muddy waters. She rightly notes the sense in which a group of scientists latch onto a paradigm before they can articulate a theory. It starts with some achievement that draws like-minded people together into a social relationship.

[F]or Kuhn, something sociologically describable, and above all, concrete, already exists in actual science, at the early stages, when the theory is not there.

It is worth remarking also that, whatever synonym-patterns Kuhn may get trapped into establishing in the heat of his arguments, he never, in fact, equates ‘paradigm’, in any of its main senses, with ‘scientific theory’. For his metaparadigm* is something far wider than, and ideologically prior to, theory: i.e. a whole Weltanschauung. His sociological paradigm, as we have seen, is also prior to theory, and other than theory, since it is something concrete and observable: i.e. a set of habits. And his construct-paradigm is less than a theory, since it can be something as little theoretic as a single piece of apparatus: i.e. anything which can cause actual puzzle-solving to occur. (Masterman 1977, p. 66-67, emphasis mine)

[*By “metaparadigm,” Masterman is referring to the sense in which Kuhn refers to an all-encompassing way of thinking about the world and not merely to a localized pattern, set of habits, or framework for puzzle-solving.]

While many critics (especially followers of Popper) scoffed at Kuhn’s work and claimed he had simply reworked some well-known and understood ideas, Masterman realized he was onto something important. And she recognized that this new way of looking at scientific progress — not as an accumulation of facts and a slow upward march, but as a kind of punctuated equilibrium — was attracting readers and adherents. Continue reading “Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 2)”


2022-02-22

The Book of Revelation and the Bar Kochba Revolt

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by Neil Godfrey

Scene from Trajan’s column

I have been posting preliminary information on dates that are widely assigned to the Book of Revelation but have decided to jump ahead and make it clear where these posts are headed.

Thomas Witulski has presented some interesting arguments for dating Revelation to the time of the lead up to and beginning of the Bar Kochba war in the time of Emperor Hadrian, between 132 and 135 CE.

So how does that setting fit with the “four horsemen of the apocalypse”?

  • The white horse is the conquering emperor Trajan. White horses in mythology and historical triumphs were associated with conquerors in their triumphs (and with Zeus himself).
  • The red horse represents the various messianic-led Jewish uprisings in the years leading up to the 130s throughout Cyrenaica, Egypt, Cyprus and Mesopotamia.
  • The black horse whose rider carries the scales represents a ruler responsible for justice (as commonly symbolized at that time by scales, emblem of the goddess Aequitas); prices are said to be extremely high but, contrary to a famine setting, land producing oil and wine was not to be touched and converted to grain production. This horse represents a governor of Asia who was forced to cope in condign ways with the results of the Jewish revolts that had reduced grain supplies from Egypt.
  • The pale horse represents the fate of the Jews following the suppression of their uprisings — death, executions, famine, wolves threatening survivors in areas reduced to chaos.

Okay, so what about the measuring of the temple?

The rebels’ programme of (re)building the Yahweh sanctuary in Jerusalem and reinstalling the priestly-dominated cult of the temple should also be understood in this context: (a) The measuring out described in Apk 11:1-2a for the purpose of rebuilding or reestablishing the temple, the θυσιαστήριον and the worshippers there presupposes that these buildings and conditions are not present or destroyed at the time of the writing of the Apk. This obviously corresponds exactly to the conditions in Jerusalem at the threshold of the Bar-Kokhba revolt, as Cassius Dio describes them2, (b) The depiction in Apk 11:1-2a. according to which the apocalyptic was commissioned to measure the temple, the θυσιαστήριον and the people worshipping there for the purpose of new construction or rebuilding, but did not (or could no longer) carry out this commission3, ties in with the corresponding programme described above. At the same time, however, it also reflects the apocalypticist’s assessment of the further course of the rebellion, which he had to arrive at after taking into account the various measures taken by the Romans to put down the uprising5: The rebels did indeed consider Jerusalem and the sanctuary of Yahweh. Jerusalem and the Yahweh sanctuary and to reinstall the temple cult; in the end, however, the ναός τοΰ θεού and the associated θυσιαστήριον – at least according to the apocalypticist’s assessment – will not be rebuilt, for those who want to worship there and practise the Jewish worship of God, there will not be such a possibility (anymore).

The historical reference of Apk 11:1-2a to the first phase of the Bar Kokhba revolt becomes even more conclusive if it is assumed that the decision to (re)found Jerusalem as the Roman colony of Aelia Capitolina and, in connection with this, the decision to erect a pagan sanctuary there can be dated to the time immediately before the military escalation, i.e. around 130 AD. Then the statements of Apk 11:1-2a could be referred to these decisions of Hadrian without any problems: The apocalypticist is supposed to measure the temple, the θυσιοοτήριον and the people worshipping there for the purpose of rebuilding or reconstruction.

(Die vier apokalyptischen Reiter, pp 305f; translated)

The two witnesses?

Bar Kochba and the priest Eleazar, the political and religious leaders of Israel who were dedicated to the liberation of Judea from the Romans. I know. Questions arise. I will address details in future posts.

The beast and his false prophet?

Hadrian and his advisor, propagandist and rhetor Antonius Polemon

The author expected Hadrian to kill the Bar Kochba and the priest Eleazar and that the whole world would rejoice in the destruction of those it held responsible for war.

The posts won’t be completed this week, but hopefully they will be finished before year’s end.

.


Witulski, Thomas. Apk 11 und der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand : eine zeitgeschichtliche Interpretation. Tübingen : Mohr Siebeck, 2012, http://archive.org/details/apk11undderbarko0000witu.

—. Die Johannesoffenbarung Und Kaiser Hadrian: Studien Zur Datierung Der Neutestamentlichen Apokalypse. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007, http://www.librarything.com/work/5467644/book/208189148.

—. Die vier apokalyptischen Reiter Apk 6,1-8: Ein Versuch ihrer zeitgeschichtlichen (Neu-)Interpretation. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015.



2022-02-21

On Revelation’s Beast and 666 symbolizing Gnostic Wisdom

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by Neil Godfrey

So you think you can figure out the “seven kings” and work out the time-frame of Rome in the Book of Revelation. Here’s something to push you off-balance with all your ingenuity. It’s from one of those “Dutch Radicals” of a hundred years ago. It’s a slightly edited machine translation. All bolded highlighting is my own.

Symbolism in the Apocalypse of John.

by

Dr. G. A. van den Bergh van Eysinga, Santpoort.

The next occasion for my lecture topic (the lecture was given during the congress of the Dutch Oriental Society in Leyden, 21 April 1922) is probably the contribution by Carl Clemens on the pictoriality of the Revelation of John, published in the Festgabe für Julias Kaftan.1 The important studies by Gunkel, Bousset, Boll and others have primarily focused on the origin of the apocalyptic images – Clemens wanted to place more emphasis on what the author himself and his readers thought of his book, which then also includes an understanding of the literary forms he used.

Holy Wisdom Icon – Wikimedia

Reading this essay has inspired me to take up again a question I dealt with ten years ago during the international congress on the history of religion here and to examine more closely the solution proposed at that time.2 The starting point for me at that time was the interpretation of the famous number of the great beast,3 Apoc. 13:18, the triangular number (αριθμός τρίγωνος) 666, which can be traced back to the basic number 36 according to a custom that can often be proven in antiquity and is thus interchangeable. 36, however, is also a triangular number and as such can be replaced by 8.1 The eight was then easily associated with the eightness, the Ogdoas, which in the Gnostic systems is another name for wisdom, Sophia or Chokma. The Ogdoas appears as a place, namely the fixed starry sky above the seven planetary spheres (Clem. Alex. Strom. IV. 159, 2). According to Plutarch (Theseus 36), it has the peculiarity of the abiding and immovable; it is the transcendent world, the εστώς, the άπίάνητος Λιών (cf. Clem. Alex. V. 36, 3). After traversing the seven spheres, Tyche, for example, enters, according to Poimandres (XIII. 17 ff.), into the Ogdoas, the place for the songs of praise of those redeemed from the body (I. 26). As the heavenly Jerusalem, however, it is with the Valentinians the mother of all living creatures (Hippol. VI. 34, 3). In the Ogdoas, which is called the Day of the Lord, the spiritual beings come to rest and remain there with the mother until perfection (Clem. Alex. Excerpt from Theodotus 63, 1).2 But the mother-deity becomes in the Gnosis an abstract concept, namely Wisdom, Sophia, Chokma. 3 The one brought forth by the earthly mother is led into death and into the world, the one reborn by Christ is led over into life, into the Ogdoas (a. a. O. 80, 1). According to Bousset1 , the mother has a much greater significance than Jesus in the practice of the sacraments and often also in the basic mood of piety.  The mother is the χύριος, the cult heroine of the gnostic, not Jesus.  In Clemens Alexandrinus (Strom. VI. 140, 3] as in the Gnostic Markos (Hippol. VI. 47, 1) the Lord is called Επίσημος ΰγδόας. That the apocalyptic really means Sophia by his number comes out when he himself says in a veiled way: ωδε ή σοφία. When it is said of the beast 17:8 [sic. corr 17:11] that it is itself the ογδοος, this is almost literally true again of my supposition; when it is further said that it belongs to – better perhaps: it consists of – the seven, then consider that the Gnostic Ogdoas as mother belongs to the seven aeons, or as pleroma consists of the seven aeons. On the seven heads of the beast there is a name of lust: this name is probably distributed over the seven heads, a name of seven letters, therefore, consisting of the seven vowels, which denote the στοιχεια, the elemental powers. The a and ω, i.e. the sum of syllabic vowels,2 is, according to the Apocalypse, not the Pleroma of the Aeons, but God (1:8; 21:6) or Christ (22:18). The magic prayer of the Papyrus Anastasy contains these words: “the God who founded the earth, created men and spirits, . . who wears the diadem of the world, is ιαωουηα, the άπλάνητος ΑΙών.” So the god of the seven spheres, who is in contrast to the planets ο ίστώς and at the same time the Νους, the Syrian god of light and the Yahweh of the Jews; 3 in the papyri, however, the Sophia is expressly called the Aion.

2 Euseb- Praepar. ev. XI. 6: by joining the seven vowels together, the unspeakable name of the All-Holy One can be obtained. They express the glory of the divine name.

As I proved in my lecture of 19124, the apocalypticist did not have Rome in mind at all with his references to Babylon. For him, Babylon is the symbol of astrology and of the closely connected magic and conjuration.1 Babylon, the gate of God and the gate of truth, which, for example, is still regarded by the Manichaeans as the holy city and the centre of the world2 and where, according to the Babylonian-Persian view, the divine messenger descends, became, in the estimation of his enemies, the innermost part of hell.3 Opposite this seat of sin and demons, according to the Jewish view, stands Jerusalem, the city of the seven pillars or of life. For Herodotus I. 181 already knew of the house of life on the seven towers in Babylon; for the Jews, this was later the Hana of the false wisdom, the foreign wooer, situated high above the city.4 In the Apocalypse, Babylon refers precisely to the devilish worship of wisdom. Rightly did Irenaeus (v. 30, 1) behold in the great beast the image of apostasy, the church of Antichrist.5 The πόρνεια which is pronounced by her throughout is heathen idolatry with sorcery (16:2) and demon-beings (16:14). Babylon is a ποςνή because she has given herself up to demons. She sits on Sophia, the ethnicising gnosis, the astral religion that engages in sorcery practice and demon summoning; in God’s hand, this very Sophia causes her fall (17:3). The beast is covered with blasphemous names; these are probably magic names, which give the same power to the knower as the bearer of the name has.

The woman in the 12th chapter is the antitype of the beast; if in Irenaeus (I. 29, 1) the Barbelo or Gnostic Sophia is called “a never-aging aeon in a female spirit”, it is noticeable that the woman of 12:1 is also thought of as everlasting, when she appears clothed with the sun and has the moon under her feet, which according to Horapollon 1 is a sign of eternity.6

Important in this respect is the 11th chapter, where the two witnesses are probably Moses and Elijah, who are then again symbolic representatives of the law and the prophets as in the story of the transfiguration; they prophesy in robes of repentance and encourage repentance. They fall prey to the beast and then lie in the market place of the great city called ηνευματιχως Sodom and Egypt Which city is meant here? In the 5th book of the Sibyllines (v. 154, 226, 413) the πόλις is indeed Jerusalem, and one might think in connection with the mention of the temple (11:1 f.) that this is also the case here, but 18:2, 10, and 21 is evidently meant Babylon, and this agrees better with the epithets Sodom and Egypt, which typically stand for πόρνεια and μάγεία. To all appearance the witnesses perish; but they stand on their feet again after 3½ days, and ascend to heaven in a cloud, just as Mt. 17:5 is testified of Moses and Elijah: νεφελή φωτεινή επεσχίπσεν αύτούς. They are raptured. Thus the beast of the abyss is here again the Babylonian gnosis, which divides itself threateningly against the Messianic church, which kills law and prophets – in Babel, where libertinism and magic are at home; where also the Lord of Moses and Elijah was crucified; he fell, after all, victim to the same pagan powers, which are now worshipped by Christians in an almost unbelievable manner! The great question of the relationship between the old and the new is thus solved in the Apocalypse in a more conservative way than in the Gospel of Matthew. 16:19 Allo (p. 241) has understood the matter correctly; there, too, the great city that falls into three parts is not, as Weizsäcker, Joh. Weiß and most others think, Jerusalem, but Babylon, although there is as little reason for his equation Babylon = Rome here as anywhere else; one may well agree with Allo that Babylon serves as a type for the church of the Antichrist, which in my opinion is closer to the Babylonian-oriented astral religion and magical gnosis than to the Roman world empire with its imperial cult. The φαρμαχοί or sorcerers (18:23; 22:15), the angel-worshippers of 19 :10, the idolaters (βδίλυγμα) and heretics (ψευδος), 21:7, 27; 22: 15, are, besides the Nicolaitans, the blasphemers who call themselves Jews and are not, but a congregation of Satan, those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, the pseudo-apostles and pseudo-prophets,1 probably the Gnostics, who, it is true, are not to be fixed on any particular school, still less on any of the greater systems, but must be regarded as the far-reaching direction of the times, imbued with Babylonian wisdom.

It is a well-known fact that in mythological representations the figure closely associated with an animal is often to be thought of in even closer connection with it, indeed as identical with it. Thus Babylon appears on the great beast, the harlot who courts the kings of the earth, identical with the mother-goddess herself, and here comes to light the equally well-known fact that the queen of heaven, as an immoral woman, not only consorted alternately with various male mythical figures, but also entered into a love relationship with the earthly kings.2 According to the Gnostic Justin in Hippolytus (v. 26, 4), Babel is even a maternal angelic being alongside Achamoth and others, is identified with Persephone and causes fornication and divorce (20).

The extent to which vulgar gnosis and magic are connected is also emphasised by Bousset when he3 writes: “How easily the concept of gnosis can turn completely into that of magic is shown by Epiphanius 31, 7, 3; p. 397, 9 H ……. In the Zosimus text appended by Reitzenstein, Poimandres, p. 103, the πνευματικός Άνθρωπος, however, expressly rejects magic. But the rejection shows how much gnosis and magic are accustomed to combine.” 

How very uncertain one actually still is in the conventional conception of the apocalyptic beasts becomes clear when one hears the question in Bousset with regard to the pseudoprophet: the priesthood of the imperial cult? We involuntarily think of a figure like Simon Magus of Samaria, the pagan region influenced by the Euphrates, whose disciples do not care about the moral commandments. Their mystical priests lead a lustful life and indulge in sorcery, curses, incantations, love potions, lures, etc. (Iren. I. 23, 1). They have an image of Simon made after the model of Zeus, and one of Helena made after the model of Hera (I. 23, 4; cf. Hippel. VI 20, 1). Menander, a pupil of Simon, reached the height of sorcery, so that he could even overcome the wave-creating angels, and introduced others to his art (I. 23, 5). Of the Carpocratians Irenaeus reports the same (I. 25, 3), so that the Church Father can assert: they were brought forth by Satan just as well as the heathen, to the dishonour of the divine name of the Church.

The most remarkable thing about the whole affair is that the author of the Apocalypse moves entirely in the language and imagination of his opponents and fights them with their own weapons, so to speak. The star-gods have here become God-serving spirits. As Allo1 has rightly put it: John has consciously or unconsciously been inspired by a popular Hellenistic system whose ideas he has spiritualised. I would add that he uses these forms in order to make the foreign tributary to Christianity, but strives to avoid and suppress all pagan essence. The Judaeo-Christian element is therefore not narrow here, but has a broad horizon.2

2 After the conclusion of this essay, the work of Franz Dornseiffa (Das Alphabet in Mystik und Magie, 1922) comes into my hands, where 8. 106 ff. our explanation is rejected.The terminology ψηφισατω τον αριθμον τού θηρίου is m. Ε. intentionally borrowed from the thought circle of Gematria; ο νουν εχων but do not be misled by this; the riddle is just more difficult than the ordinary Gematria! I still regard ‘Αριθμος as belonging to a human number system, because D. has not taught me better; nor is his reference to the Book of Jeû  able to change my exegesis of Apk. Joh. 13 :17.


Bergh van Eysinga, G. A. van den. “Symbolisches in der Apokalypse Johannis.” Acta orientalia 2 (1924): 32ff. http://archive.org/details/in.gov.ignca.26535


 


2022-02-20

Dating Revelation to the Time of Domitian (90s ce)

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by Neil Godfrey

A few weeks ago I set out the reasons for dating the Revelation of John to the “year of the four emperors”, 69 CE. This time we set out the reasons others date the work to late in the reign of the emperor Domitian (81-96 CE). In future posts we will look at a case for dating it as late as the mid-second century. Following the lead of Thomas Witulski (Die Johanneoffenbarung und Kaiser Hadrian) I refer mostly to the arguments of Adela Yarbro Collins.

Witness of Irenaeus

The testimony of Irenaeus (writing 180 and 185 CE) is the main pillar of the Domitian date:

The earliest witness is Irenaeus, who says that the Apocalypse was seen at the end of the reign of Domitian.1

1 Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 5.30.3.

(Crisis and Catharsis, p. 55)

Since Irenaeus believed that the John of Revelation was also the apostle John, one of the original Twelve, a date in the 90s would make him very old indeed. Perhaps counterintuitively Collins turns that little difficulty as a point in favour the Domitian date:

The fact that Irenaeus dated the book as he did, in spite of the difficulty about the apostle’s age, suggests that he had independent and strong evidence for the date. (p. 56)

Such an argument only works if indeed it was the apostle John who wrote the book and people were talking about it, so it actually begs the question.

Babylon = Rome

Rome being named Babylon is another reason given for a Domitian date. If a Christian wanted to refer to Rome by a code name there were other options available: Egypt, Kittim, Edom are all found in Jewish writings as labels for Rome. Where Jewish writings do use Babylon for Rome (as they do in 2 Esdras, the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch and the fifth book of the Sibylline Oracles) the reason is clear:

Rome is called Babylon because her forces, like those of Babylon at an earlier time, destroyed the temple and Jerusalem. It is probable that John leamed this symbolic name from his fellow Jews and that it quickly became traditional.

The majority of interpreters have overlooked the importance of this symbolic name for the date. They have seen it only as a symbol of great power, wealth, or decadence and have missed its allusion to the events of 70 C.E. The use of the name is a weighty internal indication of the date. It is highly unlikely that the name would have been used before the destruction of the temple by Titus. This internal evidence thus points decisively to a date after 70 C.E.

(p. 58)

Seven Kings

Part of Apocalypse Tapestry by Jean Bondol and Nicolas Bataille

It is easy to suspect that the belief in Nero redivivus lies behind chapters 13 and 17. (See Nero – Followup #2 for the details.)

John adapted the legend, so that Nero is depicted as an Antichrist. He fits that role exactly, although the name is not used. In Revelation, Nero is an opposing parody of the Lamb, a dying and rising destroyer, rather than savior.

In Rev. 13:3 it is said that one of the heads of the beast had a mortal wound. This is a reference to Nero and his violent death. It is clear, therefore, that one of the seven heads which are Kings in ch. 17 is the historical Nero. The beast who will return as the “eighth” is Nero returned from death to life, the Antichrist. It follows that Revelation must have been written after the death of Nero, after 68, because the parallel between him and Jesus requires such a conclusion.

(p. 59)

What do we make of the other “heads” or kings, then? Collins groups the various attempts at counting the kings into four types:

  1. the 7 kings are all 7 Roman emperors up to the time of the author, who thus wrote under the sixth emperor and expected the seventh to come soon (some omit those emperors who ruled only a short time after Nero’s death, Galba, Otho and Vitellius);
  2. as for #1 except that the author was actually writing later than the sixth emperor;
  3. the 7 kings do not represent a sequence of successive emperors but a selection of seven names;
  4. the 7 kings are not historical persons but are entirely symbolic.

Collins finds problems with all attempts to count successive emperors (with and without the three who ruled for a short time in “the year of the four emperors”) and concludes:

It is likely that a theory like those grouped above as the third basic position explains how John reinterpreted his source. Caligula would have been a natural starting point, given the close affinities between Revelation and contemporary Jewish anti-Roman literature and the probable Jewish origin of John. It is impossible to say with certainty what John had in mind. The most likely hypothesis is that he began counting with Caligula and included the following emperors in sequence, omitting Galba, Otho, and Vitellius as reigning too short a time to cause trouble for the saints. The analogy of the eagle vision in 4 Ezra makes it plausible that a selection could have been made of emperors who were especially feared and hated. The five would then be Caligula, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, and Titus. Domitian would be the “one [who] is.” A seventh was expected, to fill out the traditional number seven. The prediction that the last emperor would have a short reign probably arose from the intense expectation of the end of the age in the near future. This logic is rather too cumbersome to explain the passage as John’s original composition. It does, however, explain how he would have reinterpreted a source.

The motif of the seven kings does not by any means point decisively to a date earlier than the reign of Domitian for the Apocalypse as a whole. The motif is probably traditional, but the context shows that it was meaningful for the author. This passage [=Rev 17:9-12] does not establish a Domitianic date, but is compatible with such a date.
(p. 62)

Why start with Caligula? One reason Collins offers is that Caligula was the first emperor to present himself in Rome as a god. He had temples and sacrifices dedicated to “divine self” and insisted on being approached in the Persian way of prostration.

The Temple in Jerusalem

Continue reading “Dating Revelation to the Time of Domitian (90s ce)”


2022-02-07

Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 1)

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by Tim Widowfield

Thomas Kuhn

I try to reread Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions every couple of years. I get something new out of it with each reading.

Kuhn’s masterpiece is a rare thing: A groundbreaking work that’s easy to read. This short book contains an array of fascinating new ideas along with a structure for understanding the emergence of new paradigms. The term paradigm has become overused and overworked in everyday English. However, when we talk about the emergence of a new explanatory framework in science, history, literature, philosophy, etc., we can’t help but think of the term paradigm shift.

Shift Stages

Kuhn described the process of one paradigm displacing another, older one in successive stages.

    1. Normal Science. What we do every day within the existing framework. Scientists perform experiments, examine the results, and decide how they fit in with the established model. They publish the results and debate about their ramifications. And then they design new experiments. The process repeats. Essentially, Kuhn said what scientists are engaged in is “puzzle-solving.”
    2. Anomalies. From time to time, certain unexpected results occur. Puzzle-solvers are drawn to the anomalies as they endeavor to make them fit within the current paradigm.
    3. Crisis. Once in a great while, certain serious anomalies cannot be accounted for or ignored. They show themselves as evidence that the current model is inadequate. The prevailing paradigm teeters on the brink.
    4. Revolution. A competing paradigm emerges which accounts for the anomalies. New research tends to use the new framework to solve puzzles. The old paradigm fades away, along with its practitioners. Eventually, we return to a state of “normal science” under the new paradigm.

Stuck in the Paradigm

The power of Kuhn’s revolutionary structure hit home once again as I was reading Varieties of Jesus Mythicism, Did He Even Exist? For example, in the first essay by our friend David Fitzgerald, he writes:

The Historical Jesus question has the potential to be the biggest paradigm shift in the study of Christian origins. And the importance of Jesus Mythicism goes far beyond the Historical Jesus question itself. For instance, it highlights all the uniquely problematic elements plaguing biblical studies historically and currently, such as the pervasive bias affecting biblical studies—a remarkable condition different from any other field of history. (“Why Mythicism Matters,” Varieties, p. 37)

Here Fitzgerald hints at the reason we’re stuck in the current paradigm: namely, the insuperable barriers that prevent the people most qualified to tackle the question of Jesus’ historicity from even taking the notion seriously. If your entire worldview holds that the salvation of humankind depends on Jesus of Nazareth, then the very question is preposterous. Even for a non-Christian, if your job requires you to stay within the guardrails of biblical studies, the subject has to remain in the category of “not worthy of discussion.”

In the preface, Robert Price invokes Kuhn’s name, saying:

In fact, as Thomas S. Kuhn explains in his great book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, advances in science proceed at least as much by new paradigms for construing data as by the discovery of new data. New models, theories, and paradigms are suggestions for making new and better sense of the data we already had. These new notions must prove themselves by running the gauntlet of collegial criticism. (“New Testament Minimalism,” Varieties, p. 15, emphasis mine)

At first, I’m inclined to agree with his assessment, but something feels “off” here. According to Kuhn, the discovery of new data that doesn’t fit within the current paradigm eventually weakens trust in the prevailing model. Yes, Kuhn presents several examples of existing paradigms that gradually lost adherents to some new way of assembling and explaining the existing data. However, the actual shift to a radically different pattern of thought requires a set of anomalies that bedevil the old paradigm — anomalies that the new paradigm easily explains or, better yet, confidently predicts.

To understand better what Kuhn meant by an anomaly, consider the following: Continue reading “Paradigm Shifts in Religious Studies (Part 1)”


2022-01-29

Revelation Dated to the Year of the Four Emperors – Counting “Kings”

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by Neil Godfrey

  • Augustus (31 BCE–14 CE)
  • Tiberius (14–37 CE)
  • Caligula (37–41 CE)
  • Claudius (41–54 CE)
  • Nero (54–68 CE)
  • Galba (68–69 CE)
  • Otho (January–April 69 CE)
  • Aulus Vitellius (July–December 69 CE)
  • Vespasian (69–79 CE)
  • Titus (79–81 CE)
  • Domitian (81–96 CE)
  • Nerva (96–98 CE)

To answer the question about how the seven kings in Revelation 17 can be understood in the context of the book of Revelation being written in the year 68/69 CE I post here an extract from Thomas B. Slater. I have inserted the quotes from Revelation.

. . . John believed that the prophecies would come true soon: “And he said to me, ‘Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near’” (22,10; cf. 1,1-3). . . . [W]hen John says that the events will occur soon, he refers to his book as one of prophecy. John sincerely believes that his work provides a vision of coming events. For this reason, there is no extended ex eventu prophecy, but there is some and it is found in Rev 17,9-11.

This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits. They are also seven kings. Five have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come; but when he does come, he must remain for only a little while. The beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king. He belongs to the seven and is going to his destruction.

The reference to Nero as the fifth emperor is ex eventu prophecy in that it speaks of Nero’s death after the fact and predicts that he will return, an appropriation of the Nero redivivus myth. It is a stretch to argue that the Nero redivivus myth preceded Nero’s death. Thus, the Apocalypse does indeed contain ex eventu prophecy. It is quite possible that John wrote during the reign of Galba, but it is also possible that he wrote during the reign of Otho who “must only rule briefly” (17,10). To this point, John’s prophecies are historically accurate. They are inaccurate with the next ruler, Vitellius, who in no way reminded people of Nero. According to the rules of ex eventu prophecies, the book should be dated at the point where the prophecies are not fulfilled. It is possible that John was writing in 69 late in Otho’s reign or early in Vitellius’ reign.

I am, therefore, in general agreement with a date between 68-70 CE and would add one more additional bit of internal evidence. There are two examples, found in Rev 2,9 and 3,9, which have been overlooked.

I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.

In both passages, “Jew” is an honorific term, the religious ideal. This means that John sees himself first and foremost as a faithful Jew and that he sees the Christian community as the true Israel. His opponents are not criticized because they are Jews but because they are not faithful, righteous Jews. Such a self-identification by a Christian is more understandable in the 60’s than in the 90’s when Christians and Jews were beginning to see themselves more as separate groups. I am aware that the separation of Christianity from Judaism was a gradual, regional event that occurred at different times and different places throughout the Roman Empire; however, it is more likely that one in the Christian movement would see himself as a Jew during Nero’s reign than during Domitian’s.

An earlier date would also help to explain why the book is so Jewish and also why some exegetes have postulated that chapters 1, 2, 21 and 22 constitute a Jewish apocalypse; chapters 3-20, a Christian one. It is both Christian and Jewish at a point in time when this fact would have been a given for the original readers. Such a self-designation and self-understanding is much more intelligible in the 60’s, when Christianity was still very much within the Jewish religious community, than the 90’s, when Christianity saw itself more and more as separate and distinct from Judaism.

(Slater, 2003, pp 257-58. Bolded highlighting is mine)

— Slater, Thomas B. “Dating the Apocalypse to John.” Biblica 84, no. 2 (2003): 252–58.

Fifteen years later Slater “revisited” the above article with…

— Slater, Thomas B. “Dating the Apocalypse to John, Revisited.” Review & Expositor 114, no. 2 (May 2017): 247–53.

Quoting from that later article…

Wilson also emphasizes internal evidence and includes Galba, Otho, and Vitellius in reckoning the list of emperors. He concurs with Bell and Rowland that it is most important that Nero is clearly the fifth emperor. Wilson identifies 666 as a gematria for NERON KAISAR. “When the name is put into Hebrew and the numerical equivalents of the Hebrew letters are added together, the sum is 666.” In addition, he provides the most credible explanation for the “616” variant reading in some manuscripts. “The 616 (variant) would take the final nun off the name Neron in order to render it Nero, the acceptable way of saying the name in Greek.” Because Nero is the fifth emperor, Galba is the sixth, “the one who is,” and Otho is yet to come. For Wilson, as for Bell and Rowland, the Apocalypse dates to the reign of Galba. Although I agree in general, elsewhere I have argued that John wrote Revelation during the reign of Vitellius, but I would not lose sleep if it were proven to have been written during Galba’s reign.

I am, therefore, in general agreement with a date between 68–70 CE, and would offer additional evidence. First are two examples, found in Rev 2:9 (“those who say they are Jews [though they are not but are really Satan’s synagogue]” and similarly in 3:9), which have been overlooked. In both passages, being Jewish is the religious ideal. John did not castigate his opponents because they were Jews but because they were not faithful Jews. Such a self-understanding is more conceivable in the 60s than the 90s.

Another factor overlooked in dating the book is John’s position on eating meat offered to idols in Rev 2:14 and 2:20, a position diametrically opposed to Paul’s more moderate position in 1 Corinthians 8. John sees Paul’s position as an unfaithful accommodation, if not capitulation, to social norms and expectations. It is highly unlikely that a Christian leader would consciously and openly oppose Paul during the 90s in the same area in which Paul had an extensive presence and where Christians from all theological perspectives would have collected Paul’s letters, regularly quoting them as authoritative. Indeed, everyone wants to be the acknowledged successor to Paul the Apostle in the 90s. We know, however, from Paul’s own letters of his ardent opponents in the 50s and 60s (e.g., Gal 1:10–2:10; 2 Cor 11:1–33).

Another internal factor is the accusation of false apostles in Rev 2:2: “You have tested those who say they are apostles but are not, and you have found them to be liars.” By the 90s there was no longer any debate who the apostles were. Again, the argument was who faithfully followed the teachings and practices of the apostles. Such an assertion about false apostles would be more likely and necessary during the 60s than the 90s.20 Moreover, above I noted that John intentionally opposed Paul in the same region.

(Slater, 2017, 251-252)

Note that this post is part of a larger series in which I will present a case for dating Revelation to the second century.

 


2022-01-28

The Book of Revelation: an Early Date

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by Neil Godfrey

I will be posting in coming months a case for the Book of Revelation being a response to events at the time of the emperor Hadrian, in particular to the catastrophic results of the Bar Kochba war (130-135 CE). But first let’s look at the arguments for dating the book to just prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. We will soon examine the more widely accepted grounds for dating the work to the time of Domitian (81-96 CE).

The following points are derived from pages 570 and 571 of Klaus Berger’s Theologiegeschichte des Urchristentums.

1. Large scale persecutions of Christians were unknown

We begin with Revelation 2:13, a message to one of the seven churches:

I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.

The author, Berger concludes, knows of only one martyrdom in Asia Minor. Compare the account of Eusebius who informs us that it was at a later time, in the time of Domitian, that more serious persecution was undertaken:

Domitian, having shown great cruelty toward many, and having unjustly put to death no small number of well-born and notable men at Rome, and having without cause exiled and confiscated the property of a great many other illustrious men, finally became a successor of Nero in his hatred and enmity toward God. He was in fact the second that stirred up a persecution against us, although his father Vespasian had undertaken nothing prejudicial to us.

(Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 3.17)

But the evidence even for Domitian’s persecution is sparse. The author of Revelation knows of Christian martyrs in the city of Rome (presumably from the time of Nero) only by hearsay. Revelation 17 refers to a city on seven hills “drunk with the blood” of the saints.

Nero (Wikipedia)

2. Nero Redivivus

The Beast of Revelation is a reverse image of the slain and resurrected Christ (compare Rev. 5:6 with Rev 13:3, 12), an image that is surely inspired by the rumours of Nero having returned after his reported death. These rumours first emerged in the eastern part of the empire in the year 69 CE, the famous “year of the four emperors” following Nero’s suicide:

About this time Achaia and Asia were terrified by a false rumour of Nero’s arrival. The reports with regard to his death had been varied, and therefore many people imagined and believed that he was alive. The forces and attempts of other pretenders we shall tell as we proceed;​ but at this time, a slave from Pontus or, as others have reported, a freedman from Italy, who was skilled in playing on the cithara and in singing, gained the readier belief in his deceit through these accomplishments and his resemblance to Nero. . . . Many came eagerly forward at the famous name, prompted by their desire for a change and their hatred of the present situation. The fame of the pretender was increasing from day to day when a chance shattered it.

Tacitus, Histories 2.8)

There was another “false Nero”, possibly two more, some years later, but the earliest enthusiasm for a viable return of the emperor was not long before Vespasian became emperor.

3. Lord and God — emperor worship

One of the reasons many commentators have assigned the Book of Revelation to the reign of Domitian is that Domitian assigned himself the title Dominus et Deus (=Lord and God). Berger, though, notes that the same title for the Roman emperor is documented earlier. Especially noteworthy, is that three cities of Asia Minor, Ephesus, Pergamon and Smyrna, were granted the imperial privilege of hosting the cult of emperor worship.

4. The number of the beast

Though various interpretations have been proposed, the number 666 in Rev 13:18 may be thought best to apply to KAISER NERON. Transliterated into Hebrew: nrwn qsr = 50 + 200 + 6 + 50 + 100 + 60 + 200. 

Second Temple (Wikipedia)

5. Jerusalem and the temple still standing

Rev 11:8

And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. 

Rev 11:1-2

And there was given me a reed like unto a rod: and the angel stood, saying, Rise, and measure the temple of God, and the altar, and them that worship therein. But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months.

The above passages suggest that the city is still intact and that its temple is still standing.

6. Early stage of church development

There is nothing in the Book of Revelation to indicate a hierarchical (i.e. ruling bishops) organization and control of church congregations. The prophet John appears to be able to speak as a peer directly to the church members.

7. Gospels not yet written

According to Berger, Revelation “shows such great affinities to the old synoptic tradition (especially Q), to Pauline and co-Pauline theology, that a gap of 30 to 40 years seems completely unrealistic. The relationship of the Apocalypse of John to the synoptic tradition is such that the Gospels are not yet presupposed.” Some elements in the gospels do have their allusions in Revelation but not as part of a pre-gospel “Jesus tradition”. 

.

From the above considerations, Klaus Berger concludes that the most likely time the book was written was just prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, that is, during the “year of the four emperors”, 68/69 CE. This date, he suggests, is fixed by Revelation 17:10

And there are seven kings: five are fallen, and one is, and the other is not yet come; and when he cometh, he must continue a short space.


Berger, Klaus. “Zur Frühdatierung der Johannesapokalypse [=On the Early Dating of the Apocalypse of John].” In Theologiegeschichte des Urchristentums: Theologie des Neuen Testaments, 2., Überarb. und erw. Aufl. 568–71. Tübingen: Francke, 1995.